The ban on the trade of rhino horns has not only failed to eradicate poaching, but made the illegal market more lucrative for criminals at the expense of this endangered species. This is the argument made by the founders and supporters of the Legal Trade for Rhino Survival (LRTS) — an alliance of conservationists and scientists dedicated to reversing the ban on the international trade in rhino horn. The organisation hosted its inaugural conference at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) on Saturday, where the country’s government and most of the stakeholders from around the world expressed their full support for its effort. They said the 41-year ban had been ineffective and the rhino population was rapidly decreasing as more than 1 000 rhinos were poached in the southern African region annually.Eswatini Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Moses Vilakati, who read the speech on behalf of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, said the aim of the 1977 ban by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) was to ensure that international trade in species of wild animals and plants did not threaten their survival. Vilakati said the lifting of the ban on legal trade of Eswatini’s rhino horns could lead to the eradication of poverty in impoverished communities that co-exist with rhinos. He said the costs of protecting rhinos were rapidly escalating so some of the funding could be invested back into initiatives geared towards keeping poachers away from these precious animals.“We have seen many ‘doubting Thomases’ who continue to call for non-lifting of the ban on rhino horn trade, yet they have dismally failed to conserve the rhino ...”Ted Reilly, an internationally-acclaimed conservationist and chief executive of Eswatini’s wildlife authority, Big Game Parks, described lifting the ban as “a common sense approach to rhino survival”. He said rhino horns could be harvested painlessly and on an ongoing basis without having to kill the animal because it grew back.“In contrast, a poached rhino has to die to yield its horn. The average horn weighs approximately four kilograms giving it an illegal value of $240 000 and this makes a dead rhino far more valuable than a live rhino. That’s how nonsensical the ban on horn trade is,” said Reilly.He shared Vilakati’s sentiments that the costs, financially and otherwise, of protecting rhinos were becoming too high and that was causing some custodians to disinvest in them.“A friend of mine who was a rhino custodian was shot through the liver and very nearly died for protecting rhinos. Another friend was gang raped by criminals while defending orphaned rhinos.“How can we sensibly continue with this madness of knowingly giving criminals the monopoly in their illegal trade, when it is visibly driving rhinos towards extinction?” he asked.Sabelo Mdlalose, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s popular ranger who is based in Hluhluwe, at the LTRS’ inaugural conference at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Eswatini on Saturday.